X-Men: Days of Future Past is still a ways out at this point, but part of the reason it’s gathering so much attention even now is that it’s lined up an amazing cast. And what’s more – they’re nearly all returners from other films in the series. Now, more than a decade after the release of X-Men (go from the beginning of production on that movie through next year’s May release and you’re looking at right about fifteen years), there are still six original cast members suiting up for another X-movie: Hugh Jackman, Anna Pacquin, Halle Berry, Shawn Ashmore, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen, who will turn 75 days after the U.S. release of Days of Future Past. Add to that two more from X2 and X3, plus five from First Class. That’s a total count of thirteen returners to seven newcomers among the main cast that has been announced. (Though production is ongoing, there could yet be some announcements or leaks – possibly a cameo by Rebecca Romjin’s older Mystique, Kelsey Grammar’s older Beast, or Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler?) No wonder director Bryan Singer said getting them all (or most of them) together for Comic-Con was a nightmare. That said, it’s probably only because of Singer, who wrote and directed the first two movies and wrote and produced First Class, that 20th Century Fox was able to get everyone back together again.
But that extended preamble brings us to this: regardless of your opinion as to the quality of the various X-efforts (and they’ve varied quite a bit), the X-Men series has been a significant one. With Days of Future Past supposedly tying everything together, there’s even a separate and continuing X-Men movie universe developing, much like the unified universe with the Disney controlled Marvel properties, albeit one that’s developed much more organically. So it’s worth taking a look at the Days of Future Past actors, and seeing, as we marvel (ahem.) at the assemblage (I am so sorry.) of talent, the impact that the franchise has made on many of their careers.
It’s hard to imagine X-Men without Hugh Jackman. Including his First Class cameo, he’s been in six X-Men movies already, with Days of Future Past to become the seventh. But as we were reminded the other day, Hugh Jackman wasn’t even the first choice to play Wolverine. Back in 2000, Jackman was barely north of 30 and had a grand total of two feature film credits to his name. Raise your hand if you ever saw Paperback Hero or Erskineville Kings. He had a history on stage, sure, and some TV credits in Australia. But he was essentially an unknown, stepping into a role as the most iconic X-Men character of them all.
Since then, Jackman’s become an Oscar-nominated (and Oscars-hosting) A-lister. The backbone of his career has been playing Wolverine, sure, but he’s done it with aplomb, and thrown in memorable roles in the likes of Kate & Leopold, The Prestige, and Australia to boot. Oh, and that little movie last year called Les Miserables.
Anna Pacquin – Marie/Rogue
In 2000, Anna Pacquin was still a teenager. She’d landed a number of supporting roles in movies, plus a leading gig in Fly Away Home (remember the one about the girl who goes to live with her estranged father and learns to fly an ultralight so she can teach some baby geese how to migrate? Yeah, that was her.) But in a lot of ways, X-Men was her arrival as an adult actress. Though it didn’t translate into big screen stardom, the success of X-Men did give rise to a leading role on HBO’s True Blood. Perhaps one of the more interesting quirks of Days of Future Past will be to see how the now 31-year-old actress is asked to play Rogue, whom we last saw as still essentially a kid.
Halle Berry – Storm
The releases of X-Men and X2 essentially bookended the public peak of Halle Berry. In those intervening three years she starred in the cult favorite Swordfish (along with Hugh Jackman), became a Bond girl (Die Another Day), and won an Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball. And then a year after X2 came Catwoman. Yeah.
She’s been on a bit of a resurgence of late, with roles in Cloud Atlas and (though the sentence could have ended there) The Call. It’s unclear at this stage whether her role in Days of Future Past will amount to anything more than a cameo, but we’re glad to see her white-haired again no matter the extent of the part.
Ashmore’s is perhaps the most peculiar case of all the returners. He played a central role in X2, but was again relegated to a bit part in The Last Stand. He’s found himself in roles of various importance in a number of indie films, but still seems to be looking for a break. It’s possible he’s found it on the Kevin Bacon show The Following, however, which premiered earlier this year and has been renewed for a second season. Iceman is another character, as part of the old guard, who could see very little screen time, or due to the time-twisting nature of the film, could show up quite a bit.
Patrick Stewart – Charles Xavier/Professor X and Ian McKellen – Eric Lensherr/Magneto
And now we get to the old guard. Like the inevitable link between their characters, it’s hard not to lump these two together. It’s very possible that the involvements of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are why the first X-Men succeeded. Like Alec Guinness in the original Star Wars, they carried the gravitas to give the production legitimacy in a world that knew super hero movies by the likes of Batman & Robin. They were talented enough to convince the masses that these two comic book characters could be at once dear friends and mortal enemies, a conceit that’s pretty tricky when you think about it.
McKellen was a well known actor before X-Men, but it’s somewhat shocking to look back and realize he’ll be primarily remembered for two enduring roles: Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and Magneto in the X-Men movies. As for Stewart, he might be somewhat the opposite. Stewart will likely be remembered first as a great Shakespearean stage actor, second as Star Trek’s Captain Picard, and maybe only third as Professor X (though this casts no aspersions on the quality of his work in that role.
Part time stunt actor Daniel Cudmore has made his dramatic presence known primarily through two franchises: X-Men and Twilight. To call X-Men half of his career would be reductive, not to mention inaccurate, but the influence has certainly been there. It’s hard to say whether or not he would have received consideration for Twilight if not for the X2 role, but you have to imagine it didn’t hurt his chances.
X-Men: The Last Stand
Ellen Page – Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat
Days of Future Past will be just the second X-Men outing for Page, but that doesn’t mean her first didn’t come at a significant time. Her’s was a supporting, but nonetheless featured, part in The Last Stand, and likely the first time many had seen Page; her previous high water mark was a starring role in the indie drama Hard Candy. The Last Stand was probably a factor in scoring a theatrical run for Juno, which released just a year later, as well. Star factor from Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, and Allison Janney certainly helped, but it matters that the general public has at least heard of your star. That, in turn, propelled Page to Inception, as well as a number of other indie projects like Whip It and the forthcoming Touchy Feely.
X-Men: First Class
Lawrence was never going to need X-Men to reach stardom, but First Class was certainly the harbinger of her mainstream appeal. Until 2011, she was only known by the attuned few for roles in independent films like Winter’s Bone and Like Crazy. First Class released around the same time she was filming Hunger Games, certainly the source of her mass public stardom, and not long after came the runaway hit Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence has upcoming roles in Serena, American Hustle, and the Hunger Games sequels.
Nicholas Hoult – Hank McCoy/Beast
With the possible exception of a supporting role in Colin Firth’s A Single Man, First Class was Hoult’s first major role. He’s still working to establish himself, but a nice job leading Warm Bodies certainly didn’t hurt. He’s got a number of central roles – both in indies and in studio-type pics – coming up that could really add to his rise.
Lucas Till – Alex Summers/Havok
First Class was also the first big feature for Till, who though only 23 has already been around for a little while. Unlike some of the other actors, Till’s part was small enough that it’s tough to read too much into its influence. Perhaps like Anna Paquin or Ellen Page, we’ll be better able to evaluate Till’s turn as an X-Man in ten or fifteen years.
Michael Fassbender – Erik Lensherr/Magneto and James McAvoy – Charles Xavier/Professor X
Once again we’re going to lump Magneto and Professor X together, because once again the casting of these two characters went very similarly. Although McAvoy had had greater success at the point of casting (a starring turn in Wanted alongside Angelina Jolie to go with roles in Atonement, The Last King of Scotland, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe compared with Fassbender’s supporting roles in 300 and Inglorious Basterds and a starring turn in Centurion) neither actor was a household name. The casting of Fassbender and McAvoy (along with Jennifer Lawrence, perhaps) represented two truths about the X-Men franchise: superhero movies had come to a point that they could draw without names like McKellen and Stewart attached, and First Class was basically still starting from square one. It was, for all intents and purposes, a reboot. Casting Fassbender and McAvoy was a classic buy low maneuver.
Since First Class, Fassbender has had a central, if not starring, role in nearly every movie he’s appeared (Haywire being the exception), including Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. He’s getting ready to hit the big screens again as the lead of a Scott movie, taking the title role in a film that also stars Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz. He’s one of the most sought-after male talents in Hollywood right now. That’s quite a change in just two years. And it started with his very compelling portrayal of Magneto.
McAvoy hasn’t reached quite the same heights, but First Class has helped propel him to top billing on six straight projects the either have been released or will be over the next couple years, including a recently announced turn as Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein. That’s not too shabby.
That’s pretty amazing. Maybe due to the ensemble nature of X-Men as a franchise we shouldn’t be so surprised, but the series has played an instrumental role in the careers of a number of actors and actresses. When we look at the cast list, it’s fair to wonder how Days of Future Past landed so many stars, but we have to remember: It’s forebears helped create those stars. And it’s allowed the franchise the sort of budget and public recognition to go out and add the likes of Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), Omar Sy (The Intouchables), and more. Pretty incredible.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is currently filming, and releases next year on May 23.